By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
Ask Frances Tiafoe what his immediate goals are on the ATP Tour and the local favorite speaks not of specific titles or rankings or milestones.
Instead, Tiafoe seeks a more conservative target that could ultimately be the foundation for all the above: Consistency.
“I’ve had a lot of quiet weeks and then big,” Tiafoe said last fall. “Quiet and then big. To be among the best, you can’t play like that.”
While stringing wins together week after week has at times eluded Tiafoe, he may have turned the corner this summer.
Beginning with a Challenger title in Nottingham in early June, Tiafoe has won 10 of his last 14 matches. Along the way, he reached the quarterfinals in Queen’s and the third round at Wimbledon. His maiden third-around appearance at the All-England club included a straight-sets triumph over world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“To have that many wins in a short span was really nice,” Tiafoe said. “To beat a high-caliber player in a major, and very much convincingly, that gives you a lot of confidence. I'm just ready for what's next.”
That just happens to be Tiafoe’s hometown tournament. The Washington area native arrives at the Citi Open with a healthy swagger and looking to build on his positive results.
“It’s the best I’ve felt in a while,” he said Sunday. “I’m playing some great tennis. I’m ready to go… Hopefully I can keep on this road.”
The road for an elusive DC title for Tiafoe begins Tuesday night on Stadium Court. As the No.16 seed, Tiafoe received a first-round bye. and will face American wild card Jensen Brooksby in the Round-of-32. Brooksby advanced with a straight-sets win over 2017 Citi Open finalist Kevin Anderson.
Tiafoe anticipates an electric atmosphere in Rock Creek Park where capacity crowds are expected throughout the week.
“Walking around the grounds, you feel the energy,” he said. “They are going to get super behind me all week. It's going to be a super fun week. I'm really excited. Hopefully I can go for a nice run here. That would definitely mean a lot to me. This is one of my staples of the year, so I'm ready for it.”
Tiafoe has long embraced playing on home soil and feeding off an energetic crowd. Even after defeating Tsitsipas on the No.1 court at Wimbledon, Tiafoe acknowledged that he may not have won the match had it been played on a secondary court with little atmosphere.
Fellow DMV native Steve Weissman, who will be calling the Citi Open on Tennis Channel, sees an opportunity for Tiafoe to win over even more fans this week and to potentially play into the weekend.
“The sky’s the limit for Big Foe. The hashtag is ‘Big Foe on the Come Up,’ and it would be pretty sweet for that to happen in his home tournament.
“He is electric. He is box-office. He brings that energy, that smile and just that overall demeanor that makes him a fan favorite. You want to cheer for Frances Tiafoe, you want to see him win. He has all the shots and he’s got the game.”
Now it’s just a matter of getting the results at his home tournament.
Although Tiafoe is making his fifth career appearance at the Citi Open, the 23-year-old is still seeking his first trip to the quarterfinals. A berth in the Final-8 won’t be easy, though, as a potential date with No.2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime looms in the Round-of-16.
“This is a place where I’m sure he feels a little bit of pressure because it’s his home event with lots of friends and family watching him play,” Weissman said.
“But I think this could be a big springboard for him going into the U.S. Open. He’s been top-30 in the world and he’s looking to get back to that level.”
After peaking in early 2019 at No.29, Tiafoe’s ranking dipped into the 80s just before the Tour’s pandemic paused in 2020.
The JTCC alum has rebounded nicely since the Tour returned last August, though, including his first-career fourth-round appearance at the U.S. Open. With New York a few weeks away, and a successful run on a grass still fresh in the memory bank, the Citi Open provides a potential bridge to continue his run of consistent play.
“I think I've been playing great tennis,” said Tiafoe, who enters the Citi Open No.53 in the world. “I've been winning a lot of matches lately, a lot more convincingly as well.
“I think if I can keep more consistent weeks back-to-back, I'll be alright. It's not really about getting back to 29 in the world. I see myself as a top-15, top-10 guy. It's not really getting back to 29. I know I can do that. Being at the top of the game is what I'm approaching.”